Former Vikings Fan Favorite Is Available Again

Unlikely Vikings Defender
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

With free agency just a few weeks away, Vikings fans await massive decisions in the offseason as the identity of the starting quarterback is still unknown. Kirk Cousins could leave in free agency, just like top defender Danielle Hunter. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has a long to-do list because many crucial spots are yet to be filled or could be upgraded.

Former Vikings Fan Favorite Is Available Again

Those upgrades could arrive in free agency. Skol Nation has set its sights on a new defensive tackle, and many of them are available in this year’s class (barring a possible wave of franchise tags).

In addition, it is underrated but surely important to have good depth and improve the backups, the players who will be asked upon once a starter goes down with an injury or struggles on the field. In the 2022 season, one of those replacements was Duke Shelley, whose heroic performances are still remembered in Minnesota.

Former Vikings Fan Favorite Is Available Again
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) signals an incompletion after breaking up a pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) on Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

After his one season away from the Vikings didn’t go well, he is available for a return if defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the front office want him.

Shelley was a sixth-rounder in 2019. The Bears kept the undersized cornerback for three seasons and then released him on the final cutdown day in 2022 after he played 30 games (six starts) in Chicago. The Vikings then signed him to the practice squad a week later, where he stayed for the first half of the season. An injury to Cameron Dantzler and absences from rookies Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans opened the door for his emergence as a secret star.

Former Viking to Return
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

He played 12 games for the Vikings and logged 6 starts, including one postseason matchup. In Week 18, he caught his first interception in the league. Shelley recorded 31 combined tackles and defended 8 passes.

According to Pro Football Focus, Shelley was the fourth-best CB in the 2022 season, with an elite coverage grade of 86.4. Opposing passers were limited when throwing in his direction to a passer rating of 59.6.

He quickly became one of the fan favorites. The cornerback was outstanding at breaking up passes; those against much bigger receivers were especially impressive. He is an undersized player with his 5’9″ height, which is likely why the Bears thought he should be a slot cornerback, but he was wonderful on the outside.

watch against giants
Dawson Knox and Duke Shelley. © JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK.

One of his first plays with the Vikings came against the Buffalo Bills when he broke up a pass in overtime against Dawson Knox, a big tight end. If Knox caught the ball, the Bills would’ve won the game.

The Duke moved on to Las Vegas in free agency, signing a one-year deal worth only $1.3 million, and the low salary bugged Vikings fans. But he didn’t even make the roster and was cut in August. The Rams hired him for one season. Injuries limited him to only 11 games, though, and he logged 76 snaps on defense as he was primarily a special teams contributor.

It is still strange how a career backup can look like a Pro Bowler for multiple weeks before returning to his role as a depth player. Regardless, the Vikings could re-sign Shelley as a cheap backup.

The Vikings 1 Standout
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The purple team already has eight cornerbacks under contract for the upcoming season, although it should be noted that the number will rise even further for training camp and preseason purposes.

Besides starter Byron Murphy, nobody has proven to be a reliable starter. Sophomore Akayleb Evans and rookie Mekhi Blackmon showed flashes, but they are still inconsistent, and having a veteran presence who has confirmed the ability to step in, if required, could be worth signing him.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt